Ever since I turned 18, I became financially independent. Ever since then, I started living on a stipend. I’ve never accumulated debt, not even student loans. In college, my scholarships paid for tuition and I had part-time jobs as a tutor and medical interpreter that paid for my living expenses. After college, I started getting consistent paychecks for a full-time research position. Research, however, doesn’t pay much. Now as a graduate student, you bet my paycheck is even less substantial. But I’m happy and I’m grateful. I can stretch dollars and I live comfortably. Here’s how:
What you Need vs. What you Want
The simplest way to save money is through assessing your needs versus wants. Too often, we purchase the latest gadgets, cute items, and trendy products that simply are not essential. If it doesn’t affect your health, your career, or your personal relations, it’s not a need. If it’s not a need, you don’t have to waste money on it. Consider those purchases splurging and only indulge when you’ve made enough earnings.
Track Your Spendings
Knowing where your money goes is the best way to save money. I used to keep a spreadsheet of my spendings. At the end of the month, I look at my tallies for various categories and decide where I need to cut. It turns out I was spending $120 on coffee per month! So I quit Starbucks cold turkey and made my own coffee. This lasted for more than a year. I still make my own coffee, but do allow myself to indulge in a cup of Starbucks now and then. Due to my increasing busy schedule, maintaining a finance spreadsheet was no longer viable. Instead, I turned to the Mint app, which tracks all your credit card spendings and bank deposits. It’s absolutely a must-have tool.
Never Pay the Full Price for Clothes
I like cheap clothes. I also like quality clothes. I’ll risk being a snob by saying this: I would never purchase a shirt or pair of pants at Walmart. But you can bet that the money I spend on high quality clothes is within the Walmart range. I own a $7 BCBG skirt, a $10 pair of Oxford shoes, etc. And I didn’t have to wake up early or waste time in long lines during Black Friday. The trick? Get designer’s clothes that aren’t exactly trending at the moment. Fashion recycles itself so honestly, anything can become trendy! Shop places like Nordstrom Rack and Last Call Neiman Marcus for deep discount on high quality clothes. Do you shop online? Avoid shipping fees. My rule of thumb is that I would never pay for shipping. What if I end up not liking the product? Then I’d waste money on shipping both ways! Do you prefer shopping in stores? Hit the outlet malls over Labor Day’s Weekend for the best deals.
Change Little Habits
1) Pack lunch. Eating out is around $10 per lunch. That totals to $50 a week. If you pack lunch? The ingredients probably would cost you $20.
2) Lower your thermostat down 3 degrees (in winter) and raise 3 degrees in summer when you leave the house.
3) Sell something on eBay. Surely you have items laying around that you no longer need but someone else would want. We have the best luck with selling textbooks and used electronics after we upgraded our gadgets.
4) Create a “No Spending” day once a week. Chances are, you spend a little bit more over the weekends. Dinner dates. Movies. Road trips. Stocking up on groceries. So on Mondays, commit yourself to no spending. If there’s something you really want to buy, save it for Tuesday!
5) Go “Cash Only” for a week. Swiping a credit card and spending imaginary money is too easy. Make it harder to spend. Use real, physical money that exists in your wallet for a week. You are bound to save money.
6) Live the mantra: one item in, one item out. That is, only buy a shirt if you can donate a shirt from your closet. This tip is also great for decluttering – win/win!
7) Buy generic brands. The store brand Claritin D fights allergies just as well as the mega expensive brand. Milk, sugar, salt, flour, cleaning products, etc. can all be purchased generic brand.
As long as you have a paycheck – even on minimum wage – you should be able to live comfortably. There is no quick money in this world. The money you earned is enough to sustain you.